Terrorism of the age

Terrorism of the age

: I’ve been thinking about protest and terrorism as they fit into our age and ages before.

I was reading Douglas Coupland‘s Souvenir of Canada, a neat book (the first of two) cataloguing the icons of his country and his age. Just as terrorism spread its dark slime to a school in Russia last week, I read Coupland’s memory of October, 1970, when he and his fellow elementary schoolchildren were called into the gym to watch the funeral of Quebec Minister of Labor Pierre Laporte, who had been murdered by the Front de Liberation du Quebec. Said Coupland:

The FLQ was very much of its era, the heydey of other terrorist groups within the industrialized nations of the west: Germany’s Baader-Meinhof, Italy’s Brigada Rosa, America’s Weather Underground, and the high profile and dangerously loopy Symbionese Liberation Army.

In the ’60s and ’70s, protest was internal, it was about fixing or taking back your own country, its policies and power structure.

And in the ’60s and ’70s, protest metastasized into terrorism. That’s not to say there was cause and effect or a direct connection — the political equivalent in that time of marijuana leading to heroin — but one fed on the other. Legimate causes — race, civil rights, Vietnam — were exploited by what became terrorist groups that robbed and bombed and murdered.

Protest has changed in this age. Much more often, it is external: Crowds in France, Germany, and England protesting our Iraq war; crowds in Seattle or Europe protesting globalization. Oh, of course, there’s plenty of internal protest. But protest, too, is now globalized.

And, of course, terrorism has changed in this age. It, too, is external. Outsiders come to terrorize and murder Americans, Spaniards, Russians, Israelis, Britons, Iraqis…. Those outsiders are most often Islamofascists exploiting mangled versions of religion more than causes. Terrorism, too, is now globalized.

Today, there is no connection or pretense of one between protest movements and terrorism, and thank goodness for that. Terrorism today has overstepped every imaginable boundary of civilization. Well, yes, that’s the very definition of terrorism, isn’t it? And I don’t mean to create any relative scale of terror: Murdering one person is evil just as murdering 3,000 is evil and the numbers don’t make one more evil than the next; innocent life is innocent life. Still, the terrorists today, the Islamofascists, seek out atrocity for its own sake: bombing workaday busses and flying jets into buildings and now capturing and murdering children by the hundreds.

All this — I hope — makes protest movements more careful about not finding themselves morphing and metastasizing into violence and then terrorism. The globalism twits who burned and pillaged started down that slope. I feared, quietly, that the protests in New York last week could have descended into violence since there were precedents (see: Seattle). But I saw absolutely no desire by any of the protesters to cross that line.

Last week, I posted a few times about what I think is the changing context of protest. On the one end, there are new ways to get your message heard, thanks to the Internet and, for better and worse, the new-media-savvy examples of MoveOn.org, F9/11, and the Swifties. On the other end, you have to be careful to stay on this side of the line of violence or else you could find yourself next to the terrorists and no civilized soul wants to get anywhere near that possibility. And so I don’t want to tie protest and terrorism together, either; I want them to stay far apart, for protest is necessary in a democracy and terrorists are the enemy of the age.

And that is the other change in this realm: We should all see that we have a common enemy in terrorists — and if we don’t see that, then we’re self-destructive fools.

The protestors and the powerful are — or should be — on the same side in this war and this age: We may all have different means but the end must be the same: Death to terrorism.